My friend recently told me she was sexually assaulted a few months ago. I don’t think she’s told anyone else. What should I do?
Telling someone about a sexual assault can be incredibly difficult and painful. Your friend is probably looking for understanding and support. The best way to be there for a friend who’s been sexually assaulted isn’t always obvious though. It’s normal to not be sure what to say or do, so it’s great that you’re reaching out for advice.
One of the most important things you can do for your friend is to listen to and believe her.
Avoid asking for specific details about the assault. This could sound like you don’t believe your friend, or that you’re blaming her. Plus, recounting the details of an assault can be painful and traumatic.
Instead, tell your friend that you believe her. Let her know that what happened was not her fault. There is nothing she could have done to deserve what happened to her. Validate what your friend is feeling—“It sounds like keeping this inside has been really painful.” Let her know that you are there for her. Reassure your friend that everyone responds to traumatic events in different ways, and that it’s normal to feel whatever she’s feeling.
Avoid telling your friend what to do.
When someone is sexually assaulted, power over their body is taken completely away from them. It’s important that your friend understands that she is in control. Do not assume that your friend will report the assault to police, or tell her that she needs to. Instead, give her resources. This way, she can ask for help when she’s ready. It’s also ok to gently encourage her to talk to a counselor, doctor, or someone else she trusts, but don’t push it on her.
Ask your friend what she needs from you. This might mean being there when she needs to talk, offering advice, checking in regularly, or doing fun activities with her.
Remember that ultimately though, you can’t be solely responsible for your friend, and can’t control her actions.
You can provide support for your friend, but it is not your responsibility to “fix” her. You are also not a therapist, and can’t be expected to play the role of one. Help your friend identify safe people (family, a teacher, coach, counselor, doctor or someone else) who she may feel safe disclosing her sexual assault to. This way, you can help her create a support system instead of trying to support her on your own.
Keep in mind that trauma like sexual assault has a major impact on people’s lives long after it happens. Don’t assume that your friend is ok just because it’s been several months, a year, or more since the assault. Continue to check in with her.
Hearing about a friend’s sexual assault can be shocking and painful.
Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Journal, listen to music, go for runs or walks, and continue doing activities that you enjoy. It’s impossible to fully be there for your friend if you’re not showing up for yourself. If you’re having a hard time processing what happened to your friend, talk to a counselor.
- Learn more about sexual assault.
- Read RAINN’s Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault.
- If or when your friend is ready, she can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline anytime at 800-656-4673 or use RAINN’s live chat to talk to a trained support specialist.
- To learn about your friend’s rights as a high school or college student under Title IX, use Know Your IX.
If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, your friend can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for comprehensive health care, including counseling.